Can you be fat and fit?

can you be overweight and fit?
“He’s fit but fat. Is that possible?” (NB: This is a stock image.)

“Can you be fit and fat?”

I’m having a coffee with a friend, and she’s worried about her husband.

Her husband is a big guy. 120kg, to be exact. But she’s never been worried about his weight. He doesn’t really have any health issues, and she rather likes the fact that he’s a big guy.

Recently, people have started commenting on his weight. Friends and family have been pulling her aside, encouraging her to start monitoring his weight. They say that he’s going to start suffering from health problems. That he can’t be as fit as he claims to be.

“But he is fit,” my friend tells me. “He exercises for an hour per day. He does ten sets of 60 push-ups, every single day. He really loves his food, but he still works out. He’s fit but fat. Is that possible?”

I’ve always stood by the idea that you can’t judge a person’s fitness levels on their appearance. And Dr Claudia Lee, a GP from Sydney Integrative Medicine, agrees with me.


She points out that BMI – the body mass index formula, a classic way of measuring whether someone is overweight or obese – generally doesn’t account for the fact that someone may carry a lot of muscle. In this way, someone might be considered to fall into an overweight BMI category, even though they have far more muscle than fat.

“Neither appearances nor BMI always correlate with degree of fitness,” she told me. “Most of us can attest to this with our friends and colleagues. Someone may be thin yet quite sedentary with minimal fitness, compared with another who is thickly set, yet who are incredibly, fit, fast strong and quite invincible.”

Dr Claudia referenced a study from the National Health and Nutrition Examination survey in the United States, which found that there was a small percentage of the population that were overweight and or obese, who also had a high level cardiovascular fitness based on exercise testing.

“Fit and fat exists, without a doubt,” she told me. “The benefits of being fit are clear winners in terms of overall well-being, vitality and longevity. So no matter what your body type, shake and move it.”

I also asked health and wellness expert Kirsty Welsh (find her on Insta here) about her opinion. Kirsty has a fair bit of experience in this area – in 2011, she was a personal trainer on the Channel Nine show BIG Extreme Makeover, generally featuring those weighing over 250kg.

Here’s what she told me:

I hate the word fat. But I do think you can be fit and fat. From personal experience, I’ve worked with morbidly obese people and found that they were able to box forever. They were still over 200kg but their fitness was amazing. They might not have been able to run forever, but that’s because when your body is that big, running is a very high impact sport. A bigger person works at a high intensity for them, even if it’s low intensity for someone else.

If you think about fitness, it’s essentially your ability to consume oxygen and transport it to your organs. That’s your V02 max, your best measure of fitness. There are a lot of studies that VO2 max is not affected by your body fat.

Visceral fat – the fact around your organs – is what we need to be concerned about. You can’t see it visceral fat. It’s not what’s on the outside.

You might have someone who looks healthy but if you get some scales that show them their visceral fat, it can be very scary.

If you’re concerned about your fitness, get help. Help is overwhelming – there’s so much research out there. Just go with your gut and start low.

Food is the biggest thing – whatever you’re eating, your body is made out of. Start with nutrition and become as healthy as you can. People think to get fit they have to run a marathon. No! You don’t have to kill yourself in the gym. That’s not fun. Just start moving. Go for a walk – all the hormones and everything that’s released in your body will shift your mindset. You’ll want to eat better and work out.

So there you have it. It doesn’t matter how you look on the outside – if you’re fat on the inside, and collecting a dangerous amount of internal fat around your organs, that’s what you need to worry about.

Monitor your blood pressure and cholesterol levels to make sure you stay healthy, and make sure you’re eating well. You all know the drill – less saturated fats (cakes, bikkies, etc) and more of the good stuff.

What do you think about being fat and fit?

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